Forming Italian Compound Nouns

Learn which words in Italian are compound nouns

Learn which words in Italian are compound nouns
Learn which words in Italian are compound nouns. Kirill Rudenko

Where does the word “autostrada - highway” come from?

It comes from two words: auto (car) and strada (street), giving it a literal meaning of “a street for cars.” This is just one example of a compound noun in Italian, or a word that is combined of two other words.

In Italian linguistics, this is called a “composto - compound” or a “parola composta - compound word.”

Other examples include:

  • fermare + carte » fermacarte - paperweight

  • pasta + asciutta » pastasciutta - dried pasta

  • cassa + panca » cassapanca - dresser

Creating compound nouns is one of the primary ways, after adding suffixes, to increase the amount of vocabulary in the language. The formation of new words is particularly useful to the development of terminologie tecnico-scientifiche (scientific and technical terminology).

Consider, for example, the numerous compound nouns with Greek elements in the language of medicine:

  • elettrocardiogramma - electrocardiogram

  • cancerogeno - carcinogenic

What Makes Up a Compound Noun

A compound need not be two (or more) forme libere, such as “asciuga(re)” and “mano” in “asciugamano.”

They can also be two (or more) forme non libere, such as antropo- (from the Greek ánthrōpos 'man') and -fago (from the Greek phaghêin 'to eat') in antropofago 'he who eats human flesh."

The Greek elements antropo- and -fago, unlike asciuga(re) and mano, do not exist as stand-alone words, but are found only in compound nouns.

Aside from this difference, another should be noted: in compound nouns, such as “asciugamano,” there is the sequence "verb (asciugare) + noun (mano)" while those such as antropofago have an inverse sequence: "noun (antropo- 'man') + verb (-fago 'to eat')."

In any event, there is a fundamental property common to these two compounds: the implied, underlying phrase of both has a verbal predicate:

  • (qualcosa) asciuga (la) mano » asciugamano - (something) dries (the) hand » hand towel

  • (qualcosa) mangia (l') uomo » antropofago - (something) eats (the) man » cannibal

In other cases, however, the implied phrase of the compound has a nominal predicate. In other words, it is a sentence containing the verb essere:

  • (il) filo (è) spinato » filo spinato - (the) wire (is) barbed » barbed wire

  • (la) cassa (è) forte » cassaforte - (the) box (is) strong » strongbox, safe

 

EXAMPLES OF ITALIAN COMPOUND NOUNS

 

Noun + Noun / Nome + Nome

  • capo + stazione » capostazione - stationmaster

  • capo + giro » capogiro - dizziness

  • cassa + panca » cassapanca - dresser

  • madre + perla » madreperla - mother-of-pearl

Noun + Adjective / Nome + Aggettivo

  • cassa + forte » cassaforte - strongbox, safe

Adjective + Noun / Aggettivo + Nome

  • franco + bollo » francobollo - stamp

  • mezza + luna » mezzaluna - half-moon

Adjective + Adjective / Aggettivo + Aggettivo

  • piano + forte » pianoforte - piano

  • sordo + muto » sordomuto - deaf-mute

Verb + Verb / Verbo + Verbo

  • dormi + veglia » dormiveglia - stupor, lethargy

  • sali + scendi » saliscendi - latch

Verb + Noun / Verbo + Nome

  • apri + scatole » apriscatole - can opener

  • lava + piatti » lavapiatti - dishwasher

  • spazza + neve » spazzaneve - snowplow

    Verb + Adverb / Verbo + Avverbio

    • posa + piano » posapiano - slowpoke

    • butta + fuori » buttafuori - bouncer

    Adverb + Verb / Avverbo + Verbio

    • bene + stare » benestare - approval, blessing, consent

    • male + essere » malessere - unease, discomfort

    Adverb + Adjective / Avverbo + Aggettivo

    • sempre + verde » sempreverde - evergreen

    Preposition or Adverb + Noun / Preposizione o Avverbio + Nome

    • sotto + passaggio » sottopassaggio - underpass

    • anti + pasto » antipasto - appetizer

    • sopra + nome » soprannome - nickname

    • dopo + scuola » doposcuola - after-school

     

    Compound Nouns with “Capo”

     

    Among the compounds formed using the term capo (head), in the figurative sense, a distinction must be made between:

    those in which the term capo indicates "one who commands," the "manager":

    • capo + scuola » caposcuola - dean

    • capo + stazione » capostazione - stationmaster

    • capo + classe » capoclasse - class president

    and those in which the element capo indicates either "excellence" or "beginning of something":

    • capo + lavoro » capolavoro - masterpiece

    • capo + verso » capo verso - paragraph, indent

     

    There are also other types of compounds, formed in more diverse ways:

    • capodanno = capo dell'anno (noun + preposition + noun) - New Year, end of the year

    • pomodoro = pomo d'oro (noun + preposition + noun) - tomato

    • buono-sconto = buono per ottenere uno sconto - discount ticket

    • fantascienza = scienza del fantastico - science fiction

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    Your Citation
    Filippo, Michael San. "Forming Italian Compound Nouns." ThoughtCo, Dec. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/forming-italian-compound-nouns-2011606. Filippo, Michael San. (2016, December 17). Forming Italian Compound Nouns. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/forming-italian-compound-nouns-2011606 Filippo, Michael San. "Forming Italian Compound Nouns." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/forming-italian-compound-nouns-2011606 (accessed November 20, 2017).